The Exciting March in the May Time Festivals
by Mark Cashean E. Timbal
The Filipino people are a nation enlivened by constant celebrations. Each month, various festivals marked by striking colors and general rejoicing offer the otherwise busy citizens a respite from their usual toils.
The month of May, being blessed with amicable weather and the profusion of newly bloomed flowers, is the time for a myriad of festivals all over the country. From the noisy cities to the sleepy barrios, people welcome the preparations for joy and feasting. Premiere among the May festivals is the Santa Cruzan, the regal procession commemorating the discovery of the Cross of Jesus’ crucifixion.
According to the book Annual festivals in the Philippines, the historical background of the Santa Cruzan stems from the days of Constantine the Great who, having difficulty in winning a war, sought the aid of the Christian God. According to legend, God responded through the appearance of a luminous cross in the heavens bearing the inscription, “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES” which means: “By this sign thou shall conquer.” True enough, the sign did help in defeating his enemies. Inspired by this miracle-led victory, Constantine’s mother, Helena, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to seek the Cross, which was found on the year 324.
Introduced in the country by the Spanish, the tradition has taken a local flavor. This celebration is highlighted by the march of the Sagala, the procession of the historical, biblical, legendary and sometimes, imaginary personalities associated with the festival. Chief among these characters is the Reyna Helena, who is usually the prettiest girl in the town, escorted by her son Constantine, portrayed by a young boy. The two bring up the rear of the sagala, the esteemed place for the representative of the Byzantine monarch.
Preparation time for the celebration varies. Grand ones, especially in the cities and those sponsored by the government and the social elite, start planning months before the actually festival. The local ones, less grand but nonetheless princely in their own way, begin preparations merely weeks before. The chief organizer is traditional given the title Hermano (or Hermana) Mayor. There are also minor hermanos whose duty is, among other things, help dress up the members of the sagala.
Festivals won’t be complete without grand dinner parties. Traditionally, the sagala is followed by a banquet in the hermano or hermana mayor’s house. Preparation for the feast normally takes the whole day. The dishes served are frequently of Filipino cuisine. Of course, the more affluent ones fix up more sophisticated affairs.
Some local residents prefer to enjoy their feasts at home, while those who are up to a gastronomic tour visit their friends to sample their savory dishes. Lively music usually plays all day, even through the night, to complement the already spirited atmosphere. Drinking rows “in honor” of the occasion are a common sight.
One can really see a hundred years of tradition in the Santa Cruzan. This tradition of vivid colors mirroring the hearts of the Filipino as a peaceful and fun-loving people is, without a doubt, a part of our wealthy Filipino heritage.